Stakes Preview: In the Dixie at rainy Pimlico, who would relish soft turf?


>>Go to the PPs for The G2 Dixie, Post Time 5:39 EDT Saturday

The Grade 2, $250,000 Dixie has a field of 13 older horses going a mile and 1/16 and a grass course that seems very likely to be soft. The field is led by Grand Arch, who finished third in the 2015 BC Mile.

According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the early leader will be #12 Take the Stand. He is closely followed by #7 Grand Arch. Then there’s a gap back to El Kabeir, Long On Value, and Prince Gagarin.

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The fastest TimeformUS Late Pace rating in the field, a 120, belongs to Golden Sabre.

Here is the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:

#1 Long On Value (12-1): Mott five-year-old has run his number on soft turf, has competitive speed figures, and is proven at this level. However, he regressed three points, to a 121, second off the layoff. We expect him to tuck in behind the speed today. He is fully capable of coming from off the pace. He is a horse we can neither embrace nor dismiss.

#2 Za Approval (10-1): Eight-year-old has a sterling record and bankroll, but we don’t think he is quite what he once was, and we question him on soft turf. He is hard to entirely dismiss off the layoff, since any kind of “fresh” improvement over his most recent puts him in the thick of things, and Casse gets a solid 82 off comparable layoffs, but we are playing against him on the win end.

#3 Captain Dixie (20-1): Put strong races together after Jamie Ness claimed him from Chad Brown, earning speed figures of 121 and 122 against Optional Claiming competition. Visually, we are very much intrigued by the latter effort, which we found impressive. The downsides are considerable though. His lone effort on yielding turf was dull. He is facing much tougher company than he is used to facing. And we are not necessarily looking to play Jamie Ness in a graded stake. Because the odds figure to be fat, however, we will find a way to get this horse on backup horizontal exotic tickets, especially if the course is firm or good.

#4 Takeover Target (8-1):

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Chad Brown colt will be making his fourth start as a four-year-old. A Grade 2 winner, he has recorded three speed figures in the low-to-mid 120s. Brown has not started enough horses at Pimlico to get a TFUS trainer rating for this track, but he has done very well here on a short sample earlier in his career. He gets a 100 rating with similar race spacing and a 100 with this rider. Takeover Target is proven multiple times on soft turf. We were not wowed visually by his loss to a red-hot NY-bred at Aqueduct in April, but the figure came back strong, and it is unlikely that race was the target anyway. Strong contender, possibly at a hint of price.

#5 Conquest Typhoon (15-1):

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Ran his best race two back at Gulfstream, when he made  a late run to take a second-level allowance race with a powerful speed figure of 127. Returning in the Makers Mile at Keeneland, he found himself with way too much to do going into the far turn, made part of a crazy wide run around that turn, and came up well short, regressing to a 116. He has won a Grade 2 on yielding turf. He has nice spacing into this race. He seems like a  reasonable longshot to us.

#6 Golden Sabre (15-1): One of two for Graham Motion, at time of writing, this gelding has no rider listed, which is hardly encouraging. His lifetime-best performance came on synthetic at Woodbine: a 127 while winning a Grade 3. He will be going third off the layoff today.  His pattern off the layoff (105 and 108) is slow but pointed the right way. None of this sets the heart to racing. However, Golden Sabre ran only once on yielding turf, and we liked his effort quite a bit. Indeed, we think it was considerably better than it looks in the PPs. We’ll give him a longshot chance in here.

#7 Grand Arch (4-1): Seven-year-old gelding makes his first start since running third in the BC Mile at Keeneland. That was a gritty performance in which he briefly looked as if he was going nowhere and then fought his way to a piece of the trifecta while no match for Tepin. That performance gave him back to back speed figures of 130 or higher. He is proven against the best turf horses we have. He is proven on soft turf (though his trainer seems to disagree). He has fired big off the layoff. His trainer gets a 92 rating off this sort of layoff. He has been training regularly at Keeneland and Belmont. Pace Projector shows him with the rail early, just off the early lead. We see him as the most likely winner of this race, but given the uncertainty, we would be demanding about price.

#8 Prince Gagarin (15-1): Makes his second start in the US. His Euro numbers are too slow vs. these. So is his lone US number. Handles soft turf, but would need a huge jump today. Pass.

#9 Ring Weekend (9-2):

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His most recent race was over 14 months ago, when he uncorked a wide, powerful late run to overpower the field in the Grade 1 Kilroe at Santa Anita. For that effort he earned a speed figure of 123, which certainly fits in here. He’ll be making his first start as a five-year-old, and he is certainly eligible to improve further. However, horses do not get 15 months off for no good reason. Ring Weekend had a foot problem, one that persisted. Moreover, good as trainer Graham Motion is with layoff horses in general (94 rating), he is nowhere near as effective when the length of the layoff gets extremely long (53 rating for layoffs of between 330-551 days).Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 7.50.16 PMRing Weekend has fired off shorter layoffs in the past. He is certainly a contender. He has big talent. But given his relatively short odds and long layoff and the fact that his lone soft-turf effort (while ending in victory) was not his best, we will look elsewhere for our top pick.

#10 El Kabeir (20-1): Makes his turf debut in his 14th start. Is not bred to move up on the surface. Trainer gets a 51 rating off this sort of layoff and a 46 going first-time turf. We do not care for this rider on grass. El Kabeir is probably not fast enough off his best dirt effort. We don’t want him on turf today.

#11 Force the Pass (5-1): Winner of the Grade 1 Belmont Derby last summer, he returned from a six-month layoff at Gulfstream and recorded a lifetime-top speed figure of 127 while running a close third. A four-year-old with nine races under his belt, he still has some upside. What is more, on our figures, he is effectively the second fastest horse in the race. Pace Projector shows him coming from well off the pace today, though he has won with that kind of trip. His trainer, Alan Goldberg, gets better ratings off the layoff than he does second off the layoff. He is proven on nothing softer than “good” turf. His ML odds seem a bit stingy. But he is certainly a contender today.

#12 Take the Stand (6-1): The second and more highly regarded Mott entrant, this Argentina-bred enters off a wire-to-wire win in a Fair Grounds Grade 2. He set a fast pace in that effort (note race fractions and pace figures color-coded in red), receiving a seven-point boost in his final-time figure on our figures (which are adjusted for pace). This leaves him with a 121—a competitive number in here. He has never raced on “off” turf. His TFUS Breeding Rating for off turf is not particularly encouraging. Draws a tough post. If his rider sends, he may end up parked outside of Grand Arch, which would make for a mighty unpleasant trip in our book. Take the Stand is a contender, but we are looking elsewhere for our top selection.

#13 Cage Fighter (20-1): Pulled up in his six-year-old debut. Has never won a graded stake. Draws poorly. Pass.

The Play:

At time of writing, the forecast is for heavy rain, and a few owners and trainers are talking about scratching their horses if the course ends up soft.

We believe that Grand Arch is the most likely winner regardless of the track condition. But we find his likely odds unexciting.

In multi-race exotics, assuming that the course is yielding or soft, we will use Grand Arch (who might very well scratch), Takeover Target, Conquest Typhoon, and Golden Sabre.

Assuming that the course is yielding or soft, we will make Takeover Target our win bet, and we will use Conquest Typhoon heavily underneath.

If somehow the course ends up firm or good, we will replace Golden Sabre with Captain Dixie and keep everything else the same.


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